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At Issue: Better energy, bit by bit

Published (5/9/2008)
By Nick Busse
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The University of Minnesota-Morris is looking to add a second wind turbine to supplement its current one, pictured above. Demand for wind power has grown so dramatically that many turbine manufacturers will only fill bulk orders, and a provision in the omnibus energy policy bill would allow the Commerce Department to aggregate orders from the university and other entities to arrange bulk purchases. (Photo by Paul Battaglia)

It may not be as high-profile as cap-and-trade or as controversial as the California “Clean Car” vehicle emissions bill, but the session’s single biggest energy policy package is on its way to the governor’s desk.

HF3661/SF3337*, sponsored by Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson) and Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL-Duluth), contains provisions designed to boost renewable energy development and help push the state toward meeting its greenhouse gas reduction goals. The House passed the bill 110-22 on May 7, after the Senate passed it 51-13 just a few hours earlier. According to Hilty, most of the bill’s language is considered noncontroversial.

Global warming

One provision asks the Commerce Department and Pollution Control Agency to submit joint biennial reports to the Legislature on the state’s progress toward meeting necessary greenhouse gas reduction goals, while another section requires the same agencies to report annually on proposed legislation to help achieve the reductions.

The bill also addresses the issue of “superwarmers” — greenhouse gasses whose potential contribution to global warming is exponentially higher than that of carbon dioxide. Such gasses include industrial chemicals like hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride, which are used in everything from fire extinguishers to air conditioners. Manufacturers of these gasses would be required to report data on the total amount produced and sold annually in Minnesota. Also, any entity that purchases more than 500 metric tons per year of the gas must report not only how much gas was purchased but also how it was used.

The bill would also require auto manufacturers to disclose the leakage rates, for all new vehicles, of a certain refrigerant used in mobile air conditioners. The PCA and Office of the Attorney General would be required to post the information on their Web sites.

Renewable energy

The demand for wind power has grown so high that many wind turbine manufacturers will only sell their products in bulk, and a section of the bill would authorize the Commerce Department to coordinate and arrange bulk purchases of turbines for individuals, community-based energy developers, school districts and various other public entities.

The provision, which comes from a bill sponsored by Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar), would allow the department to serve as a “clearinghouse to coordinate and arrange umbrella sales arrangements” so that small-volume purchases could be aggregated into single large orders to be placed with manufacturers.

In the area of solar energy, a provision adopted from a bill sponsored by Rep. Brita Sailer (DFL-Park Rapids) would allow certain solar projects to be incorporated into the state’s conservation improvement program.

One solar-related provision that did not survive the conference committee was a measure that would have dedicated a small portion of the state’s 25 percent by 2025 renewable energy standard to solar power (from HF3843, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato)).

State government

The conference committee added a section to the bill that would abolish the Legislative Electric Energy Task Force and reorganize it as the Legislative Energy Commission. The purpose is to expand the group’s role to include energy issues beyond just electric generation. The language is similar to HF3729, sponsored by Hilty, which was passed 106-24 by the House on April 30. Also included is an amendment originally offered by Rep. Mark Olson (IR-Big Lake) that requires the commission to evaluate new and existing technologies for nuclear power.


Another section added by the conference committee is part of an outdoor light pollution bill originally sponsored by Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Mpls). It would require that any outdoor lighting fixtures installed or replaced with state funds to use special “cutoff luminaires” that conserve energy and minimize light pollution.

Other provisions include language pulled from HF3366, sponsored by Rep. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), which is designed to help homeowners who use PVC piping in their home heating oil systems. The provisions would use the state’s petroleum tank release cleanup fund to provide up to $250 per homeowner to help replace the PVC piping with metal piping that is less likely to break and release heating oil into the environment.

Non-energy provisions

A pair of bills sponsored by Rep. Sheldon Johnson (DFL-St. Paul) are also included: a study on the potential costs and benefits of statewide video franchising and a statewide broadband service mapping project.

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